JET Interview Tips

A friend recently messaged me asking if I have any pointers for an upcoming JET interview. I started writing the response and half way through I thought this might make a useful post for anyone up for JET this year.

For those who aren’t familiar, JET is the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme. The short description it that  it is organized by the Japanese government as a way to get mostly young people (early 20s) to spend a year or two in Japan. JET participants mostly work in schools as Assistant Language Teachers. The goal is to have these young people enjoy their stay in Japan, while doing work that many see as useful in schools, and then return to their home countries to spread positive feelings towards Japan.

I was a JET in Gunma prefecture from 2004-2008 and after JET I worked for the prefectural board of education basically serving as a big brother to JETs and other ALTs. While naturally my time on JET had is negatives I have very positive feelings about the Programme and would certainly recommend it to those interested in living in Japan and in teaching.

Now for some hints, but bear in mind that my interview was over a decade ago. While I’d be surprised if there has been a great deal of change, it is always possible.

I’d start by learning some basic current events do Japan. Who is the prime minister, for example. Read some news sites like Japan Today or Japan Times. I wasn’t asked these sorts of questions but know people who were. It never hurts to have a little knowledge.

Speaking of current events, how much do you know about where you are from? Although it didn’t prevent me from getting in, I remember disappointed looks when I didn’t know the population or main product/crop of my home state.

Be prepared for the basic interview questions. Why JET? Why you? What do you think about children and/or teaching?

There might be more cultural or survival questions. Are you okay with living in an extremely rural area? What if you are the only English speaker? How do you handle people giving you New or unusual foods?

Are you taking any Japanese classes or did you you mark yourself as having even very beginner language skills? If so, be prepared to introduce yourself in Japanese. It does not need to be perfect, but tell them where you are from, a hobby or two. If you will be a recent college graduate know how to say your major. And don’t freak out if you mess up.

Speaking of not panicing, be prepared for some kind of demonstration. I’m pretty sure I was asked to give a sample lesson about one of my interests. I’ve talked with other JETs who have had to give grammar talks, lead a song and otherwise show they aren’t afraid to be on the spot and use their words.

Which brings us to the personality segment. JET wants you to be yourself, but at the same time you should try to be yourself at your most positive and pleasant. Be friendly and quick to smile. Be positive and interested in what is being said to you. And even though this can be a nerve-wracking interview, do your best to be relaxed. JET knows that it can be a series of challenges and they are looking for people who can roll with the punches and not tense up when out on the spot.

Lastly, dress nicely. Now, I am a guy who prefers never to wear a suit. I love my sandals and my bushy beard. But, for an interview with JET I do think it will serve you best to wear a suit and look like the most well groomed version of yourself you can be. You don’t need to change yourself, just make sure you are packaged correctly. For example, my long curly hair was pulled back into a tight bun. I didn’t have a beard at that time, but if I had my current style I would likely trim it down into less of a wild man style. Again, you don’t have to fundamentally change you style, but you should make all efforts to appear well groomed and professional, and to appear so to a more conservative group of people.

Speaking of that group, the interview will likely be in front of a panel of three. Most panels seem to be two Japanese officials and a former JET participant. I can’t say if they are actively trying for a good-cop/bad-cop system, but many folk have reported that there is usually one person who rarely talks and mostly just glares.

The interview will likely fly by. If you are anything like me you will replay it again and again in your head and beat yourself up for what you did wrong.

But just remember, you are awesome enough to make it to the interview stage. Just a little bit farther to go.

Another thing to remember is that if the worst happens and you are not selected, that doesn’t mean it is over. Not only are there alternates, who have a very real chance of getting bumped up, but there is also the next year. I’ve known many JETs who applied multiple times before getting selected.

Best of luck.

Edited to add: Some friends on my personal Facebook page brought up a few points that I felt I should add:

Be honest. Not only with your answers but about who you are. You’d be surprised how easy it is to feel out disingenuousness. Feeling a layer of artifice can make the difference between getting the nod or not.

Also, think about your possible placement. If you want to go somewhere, you should know why. And that why should be more than “it sounds cool”. Look into the local area and history of where you want to go. Many friends talked about how they used the internet to really get a since of where they wanted to go. And that is great if you have a place in mind.

Personally, I went the other way entirely. I did not request a specific place, but merely asked for a suburban area. I was asked about this in the interview and my honest answer was that I din’t feel research would really prepare me for what it would be like to live abroad. I felt that it would be like randomly choosing a name out of a hat. I felt that rather than doing that, I wanted to prepare myself to be ready for anything and to just keep myself as open as possible for any outcome. I can’t say if this was the best answer, but it was my honest feelings and that made it the best one for me.

The last bit of advice that came out on my Facebook page was about talking about anime and manga. This is kind of a tricky subject, because I don’t want to sound dismissive of these art forms. But it is very easy to go overboard and make it seem like the only interest someone has in Japan is because it is the land of anime, and there are certainly people who come off too strong when it comes to anime. An intensity about anime and mange probably won’t make the best impression. And yet, the government of Japan is very invested in promoting itself through the soft power of its art, including anime and manga. Nothing is wrong with that being the starting point of an interest, but hopefully it won’t be the ending point.

In my case, Dragonball and Kurosawa movies are what tipped the balance into signing up for Japanese classes in college. That led to history and literature classes. Other friends had similar stories where anime sparked an interest that led into other areas of Japan. Having that discussion during an interview makes sense. It shows a progression of interests that led to wanting to live and teach in Japan. And that is the candidate that JET is looking for.

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